‘Print that engine’

Published March 2017

There's a 3-D printer ready to churn out metal-alloy rocket engines at a startup firm co-founded by one current Purdue graduate student and an alumnus.

Give them two days to two weeks, and the guys at Tri-D Dynamics LLC can print up a working rocket engine with up to 5,000 pounds of thrust. Co-founder Alexander Finch, who will earn his master's degree in aerospace engineering in May, says he and his colleague, Deepak Atyam, can print an entire engine — or just components for assembly.

It's Purdue ... so, yes, it's rocket science

Atyam, who has his Purdue master's degree in aerospace engineering, says he, Finch and their 3-D printer can do in days what ordinarily would keep a group of machinists, welders, testers and quality-assurance professionals busy for three or four months. “With 3-D printers, ideally you will only need one or two people,” Atyam says. The cost difference between the two methods is dramatic.

Satellite launchers

Think small satellites. The rockets that Tri-D Dynamics makes will send so-called SmallSats or CubeSats into outer space. And it could become a booming business. A study by SpaceWorks Enterprises predicts that over 2,000 nano/micro-satellites will need to be launched by 2020.

Tri-D Dynamics' plan is to launch satellite payloads using clusters of their printed engines. The more engines used, the bigger the payload can be. The first printed engine, called “Tri-D,” was test fired successfully, and their second, “Vulcan-I,” will be tested in mid-2017.

Making it happen

This startup got a leg up at the Purdue Foundry, which helps Purdue students, alumni and faculty move their great ideas to market. Finch and Atyam are still working with Mike Shepard, a Foundry entrepreneur-in-residence. He offers sound advice on how best to keep Tri-D Dynamics moving forward.

Get another look

The Big Ten Network aired a story on Atyam's and Finch's printed engine. Take a look.

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